By Katie Nguyen
LONDON (AlertNet) – Displaced families eager to return to northern Mali after the expulsion of Islamist rebels by French-led forces face the risk of renewed violence, roadside bombs and food shortages, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said.
The Geneva-based group said that while some displaced Malians were now returning to the north, they should not be officially encouraged to do so until security could be “guaranteed and sustained,” reconstruction and recovery were under way and efforts were being made to reduce ethnic tensions.
"The military intervention has not cured all evils," IDMC analyst Elizabeth Rushing said in a statement.
"Invisible threats remain with reports of ongoing ethnic tensions alongside fears that Islamist militants will regroup in the mountains, where they are believed to have fled, to continue their campaign of guerrilla-style raids and suicide bombings in the north."
The International Organisation of Migration released a survey last week showing that 93 percent of the internally displaced families polled in the capital Bamako and nearby Koulikoro town wanted to go back to the north as soon as security and economic conditions permitted.
The IDMC said some of the nearly 230,000 internally displaced people in Mali were planning to return in time for the planting season in early summer. Others indicated they would wait until the end of the school year in June.
Hopes of a return to normality were raised after French, Malian and West African troops pushed Islamist fighters out of the northern towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal into the mountains and desert.
Most of the armed groups have retreated to the Ifogas mountains, but there could be more guerrilla raids and human rights abuses such as executions, the recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence if French forces withdraw, the IDMC said.
Landmines and improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs) could make the long journey home hazardous, it said.
Severe food shortages remain an overwhelming concern, as the conflict has exacerbated the chronic food insecurity that has plagued the region for years, the IDMC said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has said drinking water is still a big problem for recently displaced people in Tinzawatene, close to the Algerian border, and in some other towns such as Ménaka, Timbuktu and Gao.